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Children Learning To Code

18/02/2015 15:33 | Updated 20 May 2015

Children coding

Now part of the National Curriculum and with an ever-growing number of Silicon Valley squillionaires as inspiration, coding is shaking off its geeky image and becoming mainstream.

In fact, according to a survey from banking group Barclays, learning to code is a big hit among primary school pupils, with around a quarter saying it's their favourite subject.

But if your own idea of controlling tech goes little further than swiping an index finger across your smartphone screen, you might be feeling baffled by what coding involves. Here's our beginner's guide to what it's all about and, if your son or daughter is the next Bill Gates (or simply fancies doing some more), how they can get coding outside of school hours.

So, what is coding?

Put very simply, it's telling a computer what you want it to do. Code is a set of instructions which underlie what all our apps and programmes do and coding is the process of writing those instructions.

It's a little like learning a foreign language, although actually there are a number of different languages here - you might come across C, C++, Java, and Scratch as examples.

Why is it good for children to learn this?

So many things in our lives now involve code, from your satnav and microwave to the website you're reading this on, so coding can open up a range of career options plus it provides a better understanding of the gadgets around us. But it's about more than that: coding and computational thinking is brilliantly logical and kids can pick up some useful problem solving skills which can be applied in other areas of life. And as a bonus it involves a dose of patience and attention to detail.

How is coding taught at school?

The focus of the National Curriculum has switched from being about pupils learning to use tech (searching the internet, using Excel and Powerpoint and the like) to being able to create it too.

The youngest children, in Key Stage 1, will make simple, usually fun, programmes and learn how to de-bug them (removing errors). In Key Stage 2, they'll move onto more complex programming and in secondary school they will take on two or more different languages to create their own programmes. Which languages are tackled is left up to individual schools and teachers.

Scratch is a simple and popular coding language that seems to be used widely in primary schools, so chances are your kids might well be learning it first.

As well as coding, the Computing Programmes of Study cover internet safety and the use of ICT generally.

My child loves coding and wants to do more outside of their lessons, what's out there?

Here are five ideas for ways they can get an extra-coding fix:

1. Code Club - a UK-wide network of free after-school coding clubs run by volunteers for children aged 9-11. Each weekly session focuses on a specific project and these might involve making games, animations or websites. Initially they'll use Scratch but later on can progress onto web development and a more complex language called Python.

2. Kano Computer Kit - described as a 'computer anyone can make', this colourful orange kit can be put together by pretty much all ages and costs £99.99. It's a dinky little Raspberry Pi computer which features a small case, speaker and a funky compact keyboard, plus stickers to decorate it with. Once built and plugged into a TV or monitor (note that a screen is not included), they can code away to their heart's content, as well as stream music and video and more. Oh and there's Minecraft too, not that kids like that much or anything, oh no.

3. Barclays Code Playground - free two hour sessions for 7-17 year olds using Scratch to make games and animations. Participants need to take a laptop and be accompanied by an adult. Scratch can be downloaded at home for free if they want to carry on using it afterwards. A one-off session for children who want to see if coding outside school is their thing, rather than a regular club to join.

4. Coder Dojo, similar to Code Club, this is also a network of free programming clubs for kids, but with a wider age range (from 7 to 17). Attendees can learn to code and develop games, websites and apps. The Coder Dojo website lists venues across the UK and elsewhere.

5. Get an app - Tynker, Hopscotch and Kodable are all well-regarded coding apps for children to hone their skills but have fun on and are free at least initially (Tynker, for example, provides 20 puzzles at no cost but then if you want to add more charges for further downloads).

Do your kids love to code? What programmes, apps and clubs have they enjoyed?

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